Students voice mental health concerns as universities cancel spring breaks

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown Michigan’s colleges and universities for a loop this semester.

As many schools canceled fall break and told their students to finish the semester virtually after Thanksgiving, administrators have begun planning schedules for the winter 2021 semester.

At schools like Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, those schedules don’t include spring break.

Although they canceled a formal spring break, CMU and MSU adopted “wellness days” spread throughout the semester to give students a few days off. CMU students will be able to take off five days during the week, while MSU students will get three midweek days off during the semester.

Students, though, feel those aren’t nearly as beneficial as a formal spring break, especially for their mental health.

“I understand the threat that COVID poses and know that spring break is usually a time for vacation and partying, which is extremely dangerous at this point in time,” said Arly Johnson, a junior at GVSU. “Despite that, it’s also a time to take a break from rigorous course schedules and the bustle of college life. I fear that students will mentally collapse, much as I have seen at this current point in the semester.”

GVSU has eliminated spring break with no option for wellness days like CMU and MSU. Several students said they fear that not having a break will take a serious toll on their mental health, including junior Chiara Nicholas, who started a petition asking GVSU to give students a mental health break for the winter 2021 semester.

Nicholas said administrators at GVSU don’t realize how stressful online learning can be. The added stress of the coronavirus pandemic has made it hard for students to keep moving forward.

“Cancelling spring break is unacceptable and stands as a complete contradiction for the university’s constant iteration that they are working with and for students,” Nicholas said. “They were clearly not working with students when they made this schedule and are continuing to try and move forward with their current plans by ignoring the student concerns being brought up by myself and others.”

Nicholas doesn’t feel one-day breaks will be enough and that a full week off in March is needed so students don’t get burned out. She has come up with plans where the university would keep spring break, but, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, follow it up with a two-week isolation period for anyone who might have traveled. Classes would go completely online. Nicholas has also thought of a plan to have a few extended weekends scattered throughout the semester with multiple days off.

Nicholas’ concern for student’s mental health led her to create the petition, which has more than 3,200 signatures. She wants to make sure students aren’t burned out like they were this semester, which included a break for Labor Day.

Not all students feel that spring break is needed, though. Reagan Turedi, a junior at MSU, said she’s fine with spring break being canceled, but she was not happy that it was replaced with wellness days because those days will be disruptive and throw students, as well as professors, off track.

“We can plan content for before and after spring break, and the break is uniform across all classes. To have one day off means that a few classes skip behind a day, while the others maintain the same pace. The next month, the exact opposite happens,” Turedi said.

No spring break, more in-person classes coming for Michigan State University students

Even without spring break, Turedi said she isn’t worried about having a break over the winter semester. She enjoys studying, doing homework and conducting research, and having spring break negates any potential for students to get swamped, Turedi said.

Cancelling spring break is a “necessary evil,” according to CMU junior Zach Nelson. The university can’t control students once they leave campus, and if they travel and bring COVID-19 back to campus, “it can get messy quick,” Nelson said.

As for the wellness days, Nelson feels they’re a good stopgap measure because professors are not allowed to have assignments due on those days, and it’s treated as a full day off. But, if the day off comes on a Wednesday, for example, Nelson says students are going to try to catch up on homework or get ahead rather than completely relax like they normally would on spring break.

With the pandemic continuing for the foreseeable future, there’s really no perfect answer, Nelson said.

“If you don’t have days off, people are going to complain that the school does not care about student’s mental health. If you have wellness days, then students complain that there is no spring break and that the wellness days won’t be as helpful as the school thinks. And if you have a spring break, then the school looks like it is negligent in managing its students,” Nelson said.

Central Michigan University cancels spring break to limit COVID-19 spread

Lizabeth Desmet, a MSU junior, said she was conflicted about the cancellation, but it was the best decision for the health of students and Ingham County. She feels the break is valuable for students’ mental health, but it’s inevitable that people will travel and expose themselves to COVID-19, only to bring it back to campus and the surrounding community, Desmet said.

“If we could trust that everyone would stay home during a week-long break, then I’m sure that we would still have a spring break, but it is evident by the parties and gatherings of people from different residences in East Lansing that we can’t trust students in the community to limit their risk of spreading the disease,” Desmet said.

If everyone went on vacation for spring break and returned to campus without quarantining, next spring could look “hauntingly similar” to spring 2020, according to Desmet. In-person classes would be canceled and people would have to return home. While the semester might feel long, that might be a better option than infecting the surrounding community.

“I do think the spring will be a long semester, especially if we are juggling in-person and online classes. But in my mind, that doesn’t outweigh the harm that could be brought to our community with a spring-break-induced-outbreak from MSU students who decided to travel and be unsafe,” Desmet said.


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